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  • Writer's pictureMichael Soderling

Back from the future

Updated: Jul 13, 2021

“If I am being completely honest, I thought you were a bit lame. What was wrong with you?”

Out of context, such a comment from the psychologist to the interviewee might seem imprudent. But it was preceded by a breakthrough and followed by a laughter of relief. Today I am completing the concept of time travel. Previously, I have talked about how notions from the past and notions in the present affect us: The tendency we all have of acting on fantasies as though they were true. Now I want to talk about the concept of predictions, where we think we know something about the future.

The context was a personal assessment where my interviewee had applied for a managerial job. As we sat down for the interview and feedback on the psychological tests she had taken, I started off as I always do. Namely by asking what it feels like to sit in front of a complete stranger whose job it is to assess you. Being able to talk about the experience, most often reduces the inevitable apprehension candidates feel. In turn, that gives room for the candidate’s intrinsic curiosity about themselves and about the test results. When that happens, we have great conditions for an exciting discussion.

She answered honestly that she felt a mixture of both nervous excitement and curiosity. She mentioned, as many candidates do, that she was unhappy with her performance in the problem-solving test. It is pretty common for candidates to confuse their experience of taking the test (difficult) with the outcome (must have failed). Let me clarify that at this stage, she did not know how she had performed.

I started interviewing, listening just as much to what she said as the way she said it. I noticed her energy was flat and that eye contact was negligible. Although she was cooperative, the conversation lacked energy. My impression of her did not correlate with the test results (which were good), nor with the impression conveyed to me by the recruiting manager.

In personal assessments, timing is crucial, and you wait for the right moment to discuss what is potentially sensitive. In this case, it took some time before a window of opportunity presented itself. But at one point she became more animated, and in that moment, I said: “Now I see your energy for the very first time. Now you are present, and you’re looking me in the eye and you’re smiling.” I continued:

“If I am being completely honest, initially I thought you were a bit lame. What was going on with you for the first 30 minutes?”

She laughed and the floodgates opened. She "knew" that she had failed on the problem-solving test and that her chances were over. I realised she had come to the meeting to face her judge and receive her sentence. Remember that at this stage we had still not looked at the test results. Yet she had convinced herself that she had failed. Given that notion, her low energy made perfect sense.

As so often happens, we could now go on to have an in-depth conversation about a development area she had never considered until now; namely not to act on predictions as though they were true. The solution to this predicament is to ask yourself a soul-searching question: Do you think you can predict the future? Possibly, without much thought you might reply no. If so, take a moment and consider the deep significance inherent in the question and observe if something changes within you.

So how did things turn out for our candidate? I was able to whole-heartedly recommend her. She had lots of great qualities that became evident once we managed to rid her of the tremendous burden of speculation.


The clients who reach out to me are managing directors, management teams, and executives who want to realise the potential in their organisations and accomplish extraordinary results. They reach out to me because of my ability to transform individuals, teams, and organisations.

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